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Ringing the Changes

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Each change is similar to a bar of music. In each change a bell must ring once only and at the same stroke as the rest. A bell can only ring again when all the bells have rung for that stroke. Whereas in music each bar is written after the preceding bar, in change ringing the next change is written underneath the last. For example:

				1 2 3 4 5 6
				1 2 3 4 5 6
				1 2 3 4 5 6
				1 2 3 4 5 6

The bells are numbered in note order, number 1 being the highest note bell that is being rung. Here the bells are ringing down the scale repeatedly, which is known as rounds.

For a tune, called a method, to be rung only adjacent pairs are permitted to swap. Each individual change, or combination of bells, can only be rung once and must not be repeated in each piece of ringing. The simplest method is called Plain Hunt, and on six bells it looks like this:

				1 2 3 4 5 6 
				1 2 3 4 5 6
				2 1 4 3 6 5
				2 4 1 6 3 5
				4 2 6 1 5 3
				4 6 2 5 1 3
				6 4 5 2 3 1
				6 5 4 3 2 1 
				5 6 3 4 1 2
				5 3 6 1 4 2
				3 5 1 6 2 4
				3 1 5 2 6 4
				1 3 2 5 4 6
				1 2 3 4 5 6

In most methods each bell, apart from the treble, the lightest bell, does the same thing but starting in a different place. In the above diagram, by drawing a line that joins up the numbers for an individual bell, for example bell number 1, the treble bell, one only has to remember what the line looks like, rather than having to remember all of the numbers. The treble bell starts by leading, being the first bell to ring. Then it has to ring slower one step at a time until it reaches the back of the change. This is known as hunting up. Two blows are rung there before they return to the front of the change a step at a time, hunting down, to lead for two blows before the sequence starts again.

Places Please

As well as being divided into rows or changes, the diagram above is also divided into 6 columns. Each column is named after the bell that is in it whilst ringing rounds. If you are the second bell to ring, you are in 2nd's place. These places are used to remember what to ring. Using the example of Plain Hunt from the treble it would be indicated as: start in lead, 2nds, 3rds, 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, 6ths, 5ths, 4ths, 3rds, 2nds, lead, lead, remembering that to get to a higher numbered place, one must ring more slowly, and more quickly to reach a lower numbered place. Using this method to ring is called in counting places.

bob minor

This diagram shows the method Plain Bob Minor drawn in its condensed form. Although each working bell starts at a different point on the line it is always when the treble is the first bell to ring at backstroke. Therefore if you are in 2nds place when the treble leads at backstroke you are about to become 2nd's place bell, and will start on the line where the 2 would begin if you had started from rounds. The diagram indicates where on the line each bell starts

The zigzag pattern that interrupts the line at regular intervals are known as dodges, where the bell takes one step back then continues on in the direction it was originally heading. The first dodge on this line is three four down as it is made in 3rds and 4ths places and occurs on the way down to the front of the change.

Who's Bob?

A plain course of a method is all you can ring if you only follow the line. A plain course of Plain Bob Minor is only 60 changes long, compared with the 720 changes that are available. To get the rest of the changes calls need to be made which tell the ringers what to do. One member of the band is the conductor and, as well as saying when to start and stop and putting people right if they go wrong, they put the calls in the right places so the desired length of ringing is achieved. A piece of ringing that has calls in it is called a touch.

The two main calls used are called bobs and singles, bobs being used most often. When learning a method a ringer has to learn what to do if a call is made as well as learning the line. The calls usually take effect at the lead end, when the treble is leading, and in essence, if you were about to become X place bell, once the call is made you ring the pattern dictated by the call, and now become Y place bell. Here are examples of a plain lead end, a bobbed lead end and a singled lead end, with explanations of how bells are affected. The bells in 5ths and 6ths places are unaffected and therefore have not been included in the table.

lead ends

Plain lead endbecomesBobbed lead endbecomesSingled lead endbecomes
Dodge 3-4 down4ths PlaceRun in2nds placeMakes 3rds3rds place
Makes 2nds2nds placeRun out3rds PlaceMakes 2nds2nds place
Dodge 3-4 up3rds placeMakes 4ths4ths placeMakes 4ths4ths place

Number of Bells Number of changes length of time to ring
36a few seconds
4241 minute approx.
51204 minutes
672025 minutes
75,0403 hours
840,32024 hours
9362,8809 days
103,628,80090 days
1139,916,8002.75 years
12479,001,60027 years

In mathematical terms the number of changes available for any number of bells is n factorial, where n is the number of bells. So on three bells the number of available changes is 1 x 2 x 3 = 6. If the maximum number of changes is rung it is called an extent.

The number of changes available to ring on seven bells is 5040, which is the recognised length of a peal. As the table shows, a peal takes approximately 3 hours to ring and is carried out non-stop. Each ringer must remain ringing the bell or bells that they started with as no substitution is allowed. No visual aids to remember the method, or the composition, which shows where the calls are made, is allowed, so a peal is a very testing piece of ringing, both physically and mentally.

To ring a peal on seven bells one needs to ring an extent, while on higher numbers of bells less than an extent is needed. On six bells and below there are not enough changes available, and so some of them must be repeated. For it to be a true peal each change must be repeated as few times as possible. Therefore on six bells seven extents are rung, while on five bells 42 extents are used.

Peals are often rung for special occasions, but they are also rung just to have fun. For the less experienced ringer, and those who do not want to ring for such a long time, a more popular length of ringing is that of the quarter peal. These are usually 1260 or 1320 changes long and take approximately 45 minutes to ring. For normal ringing, such as practice nights and service ringing, shorter touches are used, usually lasting about 5 or 10 minutes.

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